As we enter a general election year, it is right for Conservatives to think not just about the eddies and swirls of immediate politics but where we want our country to move in the next five years.
Governments are rewarded at the ballot box if they present a clear and compelling way ahead that unites our country, rather than seeking to divide it.
I joined the Conservatives nearly 40 years ago, because I believed then as I believe now that we are the party of the nation. Benjamin Disraeli’s maxim that “The Conservative Party, unless it is a national party, is nothing” still rings true today. Our meaningful traditions, our liberties and our rule of law embodies the unity of our country, and by that I mean our United Kingdom, not just England. A deep love of country, more than any transient ideology or cult of personality, is what makes me a Conservative.
We are not going to win if we stick to a noisy but narrow agenda based on culture wars
I have always been a One Nation Conservative, too. We have to work with the world as it is, not as we would imagine it to be; in other words, a practical pragmatism that ensures we have the relevant solutions to the problems of the day.
I have known victory and defeat, to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt. The victories did not merely rely on the awfulness of the opposition, but on the merit and substance of a unifying One Nation platform, whether it was the “Big Society” of David Cameron or the levelling up agenda of Boris Johnson. The defeats occurred either because my party was divided and talking to itself or where our message was insufficiently unifying and too insular.
In 2024, we have the opportunity of winning a historic fifth term. Putting it bluntly, we are not going to win if we stick to a noisy but narrow agenda based on culture wars. I spend a lot of time listening to people concerned about their financial prospects and the condition of key public services. A successful One Nation Conservative platform needs to offer more people, particularly younger people, the chance to join the property-owning democracy, which lies at the heart of creating that common endeavour.
I propose the creation of housing development zones where the planning process is simplified, working with developers and landowners to deliver housing quickly, particularly via modern methods of construction supported by our mortgage providers. Secondly, we should incentivise individual investment in new savings and other financial products that mean that housing isn’t the only way to guarantee a long-term return, helping to free up supply. Thirdly, we should designate more major construction projects such as the prison-building programme as key national infrastructure, thereby speeding up the process and delivering much-needed places more quickly. With the use of modern methods of construction, we place less pressure on traditional methods of building, too.
When it comes to the NHS, we should ramp up the creation of NHS community treatment hubs, to ease pressure on our acute hospitals and to help re-orient the service towards primary care, which is more efficient and better for patients.
Our taxation system is too complex and unfair. We should set out a clear plan for income tax and NI simplification, removing unfair marginal tax rates and helping more people on lower incomes.
We should devote more resources to cracking down on crime, with clear timetables for police investigations and prosecutions as well as court reform and investment in technology to make the system work more efficiently.
And when it comes to immigration, rather than spending time and resource on initiatives that are marginal at best, continuing to reach bilateral and multilateral agreements with other countries and working collectively to deal with the problem of mass migration at source has to be the best way forward.
People aren’t looking for soaring poetry at this election, but they are interested in meaningful prose. It is the job of Conservatives to offer practical solutions in the coming months and to offer a One Nation future that works.
Robert Buckland, Conservative MP for South Swindon and former justice secretary